Today’s hot topic is President Barack Obama’s half-hour interview last night on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”
Obama and Stewart discussed the stimulus, the healthcare bill and job creation, all areas the president and Democrats have taken heavy fire. The interview was markedly unhumorous excepting a handful of moments when Stewart prodded the president, as New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley noted.
He did manage to needle Mr. Obama a little, teasingly retorting, “And I don’t mean to lump you in with other presidents.” He even called the president “dude” after the president inadvertently echoed a famous George W. Bush gaffe by saying that his economic adviser, Lawrence H. Summers, had done “a heck of a job.” Mr. Obama winced ruefully as the audience laughed at his wording and Mr. Stewart said, “You don’t want to use that phrase, dude.”
That one word — “dude” — will probably be the most-discussed part of the whole interview, unfortunately. What did Stewart really mean by it? Does its relaxed usage denigrate the president? Was Stewart trying to create a camaraderie? Was it an innocent moment of informality?
The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank says Dudegate is indicative of the president’s position.
Dude. The indignity of a comedy show host calling the commander in chief “dude” pretty well captured the moment for Obama. He was making this first-ever appearance by a president on the Daily Show as part of a long-shot effort to rekindle the spirit of ’08. In the Daily Show, Obama had a friendly host and an even friendlier crowd.
Ironically, Time’s Michael Scherer writes, Stewart got from Obama the sanity he seeks at this weekend’s Rally to Restore Sanity.
What is perhaps most interesting about the whole appearance is what it told us about Obama. When he is up against the wall, his response is a retreat to reason. No big campaign rhetoric, no zinging attacks. He gets more humble, and more professorial, less dynamic. This is, ironically, exactly the kind of “sanity” that Stewart claims to want in the political discussion–a reasonable debate on the issues in which no one gets dinged for a clumsy soundbite. But that is not how television works, especially on Stewart’s show, which specializes in exploiting soundbites. What will be remembered from this appearance are the stumbles, not the sober framework that contained them.
Speaking on ABC this morning, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile said Obama’s ‘Daily Show’ appearance will serve to motivate some of his base voters.
“The president is trying to reach out to those who are still undecided and perhaps uninspired about the choices that they face in five days,” Brazile said. “But President Obama is a strong closer, he understands what’s at stake and I believe showing up on Jon Stewart’s show, with over a million viewers, will help the president reach the base that he so critically needs to keep control of the House and Senate.”
Former George W. Bush advisor Nicolle Wallace said the president came across as weak by trying to explain and justify his administrative and legislative actions.
“I think the optics of begging Jon Stewart’s forgiveness and understanding are awful,” she said.
“He didn’t do that, though,” George Stephanopoulos countered.
“Well, I think by making the case, it felt like pandering, like trying to win him over. I thought the optics were terrible,” Wallace replied. “I think this White House needed to appear confident, if for no other reason than to settle the nerves of nervous Democrats who are really suffering from the political consequences of the Obama-Pelosi agenda. These voters are rebuking the Obama agenda and I think what they see as misplaced priorities on stimulus, on healthcare, things that added to the deficit, and a lack of attention on jobs, they have one problem, and, you know, the first step is acknowledging a problem and they seem incapable of doing that.”
George Neumayr, writing in the American Spectator, was extremely critical of Obama’s “ill-advised” choice to appear on the ‘Daily Show.’
At a time of high unemployment, Obama is content to play the empty celebrity, appearing on shows as shallow as his policies and delivering trendy messages about the latest anxiety of the coastal elite — the “gay teen suicide epidemic.”
Neumayr’s reference to gay teen suicides confusingly refers not to Obama’s ‘Daily Show’ appearance, in which the president did not discuss that issue, but rather to a recent three-minute video Obama made for the Trevor Project’s “It Gets Better” campaign.
Neumayr also makes no secret his disdain for Jon Stewart.
While Stewart engages in a lot of cutesy mugging and seemingly self-deprecating humor about such accolades, he takes himself very seriously indeed. His own liberal assumptions are exempt from mocking, and he claims to be deeply pained by “phoniness” at the highest levels of society. Yet somehow this concern about phoniness doesn’t extend to something as basic as his own name, which is not Jon Stewart but Jon Leibowitz, or his own role in high society. The self-proclaimed puncturer of all things phony has a phony name, and the jester has no intention of dropping his mask or reforming his juvenile ways.
Finally, Adam Frucci, writing at Splitsider, argued Stewart would have been better off in this interview without the ecstatic audience.
Having a crowd cheering and clapping, interrupting both Obama and Stewart multiple times, turned what should have been a thoughtful debate into an arena battle. A crowd makes sense for something like a sporting event or a comedy show. You want an audience to provide energy, to react where reactions are warranted.
But the trouble with having a live audience at what is supposed to be a relatively serious discussion is that it forces everything to be dumbed down to soundbites. Any subtlety is removed, as who cheers for a nuanced argument? A crowd wants to cheer for big proclamations, for sweeping statements. …
Just imagine if a show on Fox News had a live studio audience. If every time Sean Hannity mentioned death panels or Obamacare, he got a raucous ovation. It would make something that’s already oversimplified and dumbed down even more so, encouraging pandering and self-congratulation and lowering the level of discourse even further.
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